Saturday, July 21, 2007

HP & legal language

Trying to connect this morning's Harry Potter craze with this blog's focus on legal writing may be a far stretch, but exercising some kind of blog author's prerogative, I've decided to share here a couple of paragraphs from a book chapter I've drafted.  The first line below should give you the gist of the chapter's topic.   

"There is another aspect of Anglo Saxon law that the Harry Potter books call to mind, and maybe it also is not a coincidence. Among the legal remedies imposed by Anglo Saxon tribunals were wergilds and bots. Wergilds (also spelled wergelds and wergylds) were monetary compensation to relatives of homicide victims. The wergild correlated with the status of the victim, increasing along with the status of the deceased. Bots sometimes referred to compensation generally. But bots more specifically were money awards given by the defendant to a harmed person, calculated to compensate for the person’s physical or intangible injuries.* As one scholar explains it, 'the "wergild" was the sum paid to the kin of a slain man and varied in its rate with the victim’s social status; the "bot" was the sum paid to the injured man himself and varied with the parts of his body outraged and the kind of property damaged.'**

"Now, bots surely brings to mind 'Botts,' as in Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans. In the Harry Potter books, these jelly beans come in a wide variety of flavors, including some very odd ones, like spaghetti and pepper. And then there are the truly gross Bertie Botts jelly bean flavors, like earwax, booger, and vomit. Parts of the body outraged, indeed!"

*See J. Laurence Laughlin, The Anglo-Saxon Legal Procedure 278-280, in Essays in Anglo-Saxon Law (Little, Brown & Co. 1876).

**See G.O. Sayles, The Medieval Foundations of England 122 (U. Penn. Press 1950).


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